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Watching Brazil

Brazilian combines her interests in economics and public administration to study tax systems at a research institution in the United Kingdom

Personal archiveJoana Naritomi always felt torn between words and numbers. In 1999, she took entrance exams to study journalism at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro (UFRJ) and economics at the State University of Rio de Janeiro (UERJ). “I went through both selection processes,” she says. “I tried to study both courses at the same time, but eventually the demands of work and studies became too much.” She chose to continue with economics, partly because it offered disciplines such as history and sociology.

Naritomi graduated in 2004, unsure whether to pursue an academic career or enter the private sector. She decided to try a little of both. She began an internship at a communications conglomerate, working in administration and strategic management. “At the same time, I tutored economics undergraduates at UFRJ,” she says. At this time, she learned of a selection process by the National Association of Postgraduate Programs in Economics (ANPEC) for economics courses at several teaching and research institutions in the country.

She took the test and was accepted onto a master’s degree at the Pontifical Catholic University (PUC) in Rio de Janeiro. “I studied how Brazil’s colonial past and its various economic cycles have affected the development and management of Brazilian municipalities,” she explains. After receiving her master’s degree, she applied for a position as a research assistant at the World Bank in the USA. Her application was successful, and she moved to Washington in 2007. “I studied the socioeconomic development challenges faced by Latin America.”

Soon after, she was accepted onto Harvard’s Political Economy and Government PhD program. Before defining the subject of her PhD, Naritomi studied courses on international economic relations, political development, and others. It was during this time that she met economist Raj Chetty, an expert in public finance. “With his support, I decided to analyze the Brazilian tax system by studying the São Paulo tax invoice system.”

She looked at how the system helps reduce tax evasion by offering consumers a financial incentive to request an invoice. “In four years, the program has increased reported retail revenue by 21 percent,” she says, highlighting that citizen engagement can be used as a means of fiscal monitoring.

The experience led to her accepting an invitation to work at the Department of International Development of the London School of Economics in 2014. She has lived in England ever since, and today, at the age of 36, she teaches master’s students and researches public policies designed to improve taxation and social security systems in the contexts of informal work and tax evasion, both of which are characteristic of Brazil.